We (finally) know why old books smell so amazing

The closest thing we have to magic on this earth is the smell of books. The moment we open a novel and catch a whiff of its well-loved pages, we’re instantly transported to a universe filled with delicious words, sweet memories, and the thrill of bookish adventures. But why? Why do books do this to our senses?

Science has the answer.


Sci Show reveals that books are composed of paper, bindings, and ink. In turn, these three things contain chemical compounds. Over time, chemical compounds can be broken down thanks to the moisture, heat, and light in their surroundings. When this happens, volatile organic compounds (also known as VOCs) are unleashed into the air.

Depending on who made the paper and bound the book, these VOCs can differ based on what novel you’re reading. Here are just a few examples of the compounds you may find in your fave works of literature:

  • Benzaldehyde: Is also naturally found in almonds, which is why you may detect a hint of nuttiness when you open a good book.
  • Vanillin: Gives vanilla its smell and flavor. It can, thus, make books smell the same.
  • Ethylbenzene: Aside from setting up shop in books, this compound can also be found in paints, plastics, and inks. It gives off a slightly sweet scent.
  • 2-Ethyl Hexanol: A form of alcohol used in flavors, scents, and solvents. Has a delicate, floral aroma.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Is mainly found in new books, since it helps to bleach the paper. Can add to the crisp, fresh scent of a new book.
  • Alkyl Ketene Dimers: Makes the paper a bit water-resistant. Helps create that “new book” smell.


To figure out how old certain books are, scientists can use the above VOCs to delve into the history of whatever book’s on their shelf. Using this science to their advantage, they can also find out if the book has undergone water or smoke damage. This can then allow them to better preserve certain books so they can last FOREVER. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

So it turns out that the smell of books is pretty scientific – with a touch of magic thrown in, of course.

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